Cave Millipede Study Reveals Isolated Populations and Ancient Divergence

Posted on October 18, 2011

Tatracion millipede

The first genetic population study of cave millipedes was recently published in the International Journal of Myriapodology. The research found isolated populations and ancient divergence between species. For many species, individual caves act as islands of habitat. The caves support genetically distinct populations.

The southern Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and Alabama, USA is known for its high cave density. Millipedes of the genus Tetracion range across this biodiversity hotspot. The millipedes, which can grow up to 8 cm in length, are common scavengers in cave communities. Tetracion millipedes have reduced pigmentation and non-functional eyes. These are common features in cave animals.

The authors used genetic techniques to compare Tetracion populations and species. They found that Tetracion populations were generally isolated from one another. The also discovered that divergence between Tetracion species was high, suggesting that members of the genus diverged several million years ago.

Photo: Tetracion millipede from Alabama/Alan Cressler

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